Grand Bar & Bistro, Perth CBD

20160322_185512This quiet, unpretentious restaurant sits above a busy bar in the heart of Perth’s CBD. When I’d been to the bar previously for post-work drinks, I hadn’t even realised the restaurant upstairs existed. It’s a small, refined space serving good food at reasonable prices, and it’s a bit of a respite from the bustling St Georges Tce.

The menu is contemporary, and despite its brevity there are probably enough options to satisfy most palates.  Our starters of seared scallops with chorizo and pumpkin puree, and bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, roasted capsicum, basil and balsamic, were fresh and well presented. The bruschetta in particular, showcased fresh produce served very simply.

My two friends were delighted with their main choice of the vegetarian risotto. This consisted of risotto made with wild forest mushrooms, crispy sage, baby spinach and feta, and was creamy, starchy and full flavoured. Naturally I had to sample it so can concur with their reports. I opted for the swordfish served with warm Mediterranean salad and crispy chickpea chips. I loved the chickpea chips – soft on the inside and deliciously crispy outside; an unusual but welcome offering. The swordfish was slightly overcooked , rendering it a bit chewy. That was disappointing as swordfish is one of my favourite types of fish, and it isn’t seen that often on restaurant menus. It’s a change from the interminable barramundi – what’s up with that?  It’s listed on nearly every menu in town, and for me it’s one of the most pedestrian varieties of fish out there, no matter whether it’s Cone Bay or however you dress it up. Grand Bar has it on their menu too I should add.

The dessert menu has 3 offerings, plus a cheese board. My choice was the chocolate moelleux with sugared berries and vanilla ice-cream. This is the Grand’s name for what is essentially chocolate fondant or lava pudding, but sadly it was cooked perhaps a minute too long and wasn’t as oozy as I like it.  My friends’ selection of the forest fruit cheesecake with lemon sorbet, was given a big thumbs up for its creamy, fruity flavour and texture.

Our experience overall was positive, and despite a few minor quibbles, we were satisfied customers.  The service was uber friendly and efficient, and as you’d expect from a restaurant above a bar, a good selection of wines by the glass. The prices were very reasonable, and there aren’t many eateries these days where you will find risotto for $23 or fish for $25.50.

Grand Bar and Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Habitue, North Fremantle

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Set in a converted house on Harvest Rd, Habitue was the perfect lunch spot on a sunny afternoon. Underneath the leafy canopy shading the front courtyard, Scotty and I enjoyed the casual atmosphere and excellent food on offer. Another courtyard out the back looked very inviting, and I could picture the different rooms inside coming alive in the evening.

Habitue’s menu is perfect for sharing, so we selected several dishes that were so darn good that we wished we could have fit in several more. The zucchini flowers with fromage blanc and basil was a no-brainer choice for us. For some reason you rarely see these on menus here and we were excited to try them. I wonder what happens to all those lovely flowers on zucchini plants; do they just get tossed out? Seems a damn shame as you could play around with the fillings and batters and they’d be great starters for dinner parties. I digress…. This version with light batter was creamy with the soft, warm fromage blanc filling, crunchy with the light batter and perfectly complemented by the subtle basil dressing.

Chargrilled tiger prawns were served with creamy Israeli couscous and shavings of fresh fennel.  We loved the crunchy, smokey WA prawns and the contrasting fresh flavours of the fennel and fresh dill.

Everyone seems to have their own version of cauliflower these days, and Habitue’s was a revelation. Served with smashed dates, chick peas and pureed almond paste, the cauli was redolent with cumin, and served a lovely toasty roasted brown colour. Dee-Licious.

Hand-cut chips was our final choice – a pedestrian choice perhaps, but still scrumptious served fat and crispy, and accompanied by celery salt and aioli. All in all, a very satisfying luncheon .

Naturally we had to sample one of the sweet treats on offer, so we shared the chocolate marquis with malted milk and salted caramel macadamias. The chocolate marquis was rich but light in texture, and well matched with the salted caramel macadamias. Whilst we appreciated the flavour of malted milk, we felt it might have been improved if it was a bit thicker, rather than being served as frothy but runny milk. A minor quibble, as the dessert itself was delicious and beautifully presented.

Habitue was a delight. The setting, the cheerful service, and the food; all were brilliant. Our only grumble was with the price of wine – the cheapest glass was $12 and the cheapest bottle $56 ,which seems outrageous for a casual, non-five star restaurant. I don’t understand why we are forced to pay so much for wine in a country that produces so much good stuff at reasonable prices.

Habitue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Petition Kitchen

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Sexy, sophisticated, Melbourne-ish; all this and much more is the wonderful Petition Kitchen in Perth’s revamped and renovated State Buildings complex, alongside Cathedral Square. The restaurant is but one part of the whole building, and what an amazing building it is. An eight-year-long restoration project has seen this unloved old state govt building, transform into a cosmopolitan centre, housing a six star hotel, a beer and wine bar, several bespoke retail stores, and a handful of stylish restaurants.

Petition Kitchen was the setting for dinner with a few friends, and we were instantly impressed by the generous layout, the rustic floorboards, and the sheer enthusiasm of the wait staff. I was even further impressed when our jugs of chilled sparkling water were topped up during the evening – for free. I don’t of any other place on this planet that serves free sparkling water, but as I am addicted to the stuff, this dinner was on a train ride to the Elysium Fields.

The menu – it’s short but it’s intriguing and interesting and has dishes that just make you want to order them for the sheer hell of it. We opted for several share plates and would have fit in several more if it were possible. For me there were three standout dishes: the raw kingfish with beetroot, the duck liver parfait with grilled bread, and the chopped broccoli with puffed grains, sheep’s feta and walnuts. Oh my. How does a simple broccoli salad become so brilliantly crunchy, salty, creamy and damned delicious?  I eat truckloads of the little green trees and they never taste like this.

The dish of raw kingfish looked mighty purdy, and it tasted mighty good too. The waferish slices of fish were hunkered down amongst purple-red beetroot bites and whispy green beetroot leaves. A hint of horseradish and a zesty ginger vinaigrette added punch to this light and colourful concoction. I did not want to share. I wanted to take that plate and sit in the corner, savouring every forkful and not sharing a smidgeon with anyone. It’s OK to be selfish, right? When something is that good and you just want it for yourself?

The duck liver parfait – another culinary revelation. I’ve long loved the version offered by Cantina 663, but this was another contender for the best duck liver parfait in Perth award. It’s hard to pick a winner out of these two as both are bloody amazing, yet both are different. This one was less dense, creamier, served with thick fingers of grilled bread, and worth fighting over when there was just enough left on the plate for one more bite. OK, I may have been a little selfish again….

Our remaining two dishes were less memorable. Forget the baby qukes and carrot with onion creme – a waste of tummy space in my opinion with far more interesting options up for grabs. Yes they were OK – but they’re plain, unadorned carrots and cucumbers. Ergo, they are bog standard veggies and are not going to win any kitchen awards. Ditch the mundane and go for the innovative.

The roasted mushroom dish looked so beautiful and promising with its trendy warrigal greens, salted ricotta and potato, but it didn’t compare to my fave three dishes. I love mushrooms on any given day, and these mushrooms were absolutely fine; they just didn’t wow me the way the other dishes did.

I loved my experience at Petition Kitchen. It is my new favourite place in Perth. I might well return to get me some broccoli salad and some kingfish, and there is no way I am going to share. And I just might squeeze in a dessert; they looked mighty tempting too, but sometimes one has to just abide by what the gut says. “Nope, can’t fit any more in there”.  Next time…..there’s a burnt meringue with my name on it 🙂

 

Petition Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cornerstone Ale House

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With a son and a few friends living up in the Boonies in the Butler area, we’re always on the lookout for places with decent nosh so we can check them out when I’m visiting.  I know 37 kms away is hardly rural but when you’re a city slicker, driving to Butler can seem like going for a very long drive in the country.  Canned Heat’s song always springs to mind when I’m on the freeway; yup, feels like I’m “going up the country” 🙂

We haven’t found many eateries that tick all the boxes, but the Cornerstone Ale House is one of the few that serve reasonable food.  This no frills pub is family friendly and serves large portions of food at reasonable prices. Sometimes that’s all you need.

On a Sunday evening,  couples and families start arriving early, and several large tables filled very quickly. We shared a bottle of the special wine of the month – a reasonable SSB for $26.

My friend’s meal of the chicken schnitzel ($24) was served with mashed potato, a rather yummy mushroom sauce, and broccolini. She managed to polish off the lot and was impressed with how delicious a basic dish could taste when the ingredients were fresh and thoughtfully put together.

Second friend’s dish of the grilled barramundi fillet with sautéed baby potatoes, olives and tomatoes at $27 was a hearty serve that she thoroughly enjoyed.

Thinking the fisherman’s catch at $31 was going to be a modest serve of seafood, I was taken aback when a massive platter arrived at the table. And far from the unpalatable servings of greasy deep fried food that often appear in pubs, this one featured grilled barramundi and scallops, tender lightly battered and seasoned baby squid, a bowl of crab and prawns in a Thai coconut curry sauce, and the most fat, crispy, delectable fries that I have ever had the pleasure to eat.  The size of this dish wore me down though, and something had to be sacrificed. The crab, being the messiest to eat, won that dubious distinction.

Overall, this was a positive dining experience with pub grub a cut above many other similar establishments. If you have a large appetite, you’ve come to the right place. Kudos too, to the cheery staff who go all out to make you feel welcome. This place may be out in the sticks, but it knows all about good old fashioned hospitality.

 

http://thecornerstone.com.au/index.php

 

Cornerstone Ale House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Stix Bar

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Stix looks like a bit like a shiny diamond amid the burgeoning apartment complexes on the Swan River in Burswood. Replete with a burnished wooden bar, gleaming copper fittings, views of the city and glimpses of the nearby Swan River, it’s a welcoming chill out spot away from the bustling Crown Casino complex a few minutes away.

We took advantage of a Groupon offer of 4 courses for $60, and thoroughly enjoyed our Stix evening of good food and attentive service. With 2 choices for each course, the menu wouldn’t work if you were a fussy diner, but for our group it was perfect.  Starting with an amuse bouche of a scallop with roe atop pea puree, the courses were well paced and the perfect size. The entree of chicken ballotine was beautifully flavoured and was served on a bed of something cool and creamy (I didn’t make a note of the details at the time; all I can remember is how much I enjoyed it!).

Our mains of Mt Barker roasted chicken breast with tarragon jus were accompanied by the most delicious little potato morsels I’ve ever had. Creamy soft inside and baked to a slightly crisp finish, they were simply amazing. The chicken was tender and moist, and although this was a simple dish, it was satisfying and perfectly cooked.

A course of Yallingup camembert topped with rocket was served with a basket of bread, although crackers would probably have been better suited after our substantial mains.

Dessert consisted of a selection of ice-cream and sorbet served on a crispy shortbread biscuit. The coffee ice-cream was sensational, with a close favourite being the zingy lime and mint sorbet. An unusual-looking dessert because of the way it was served on the curved biscuit, it was a light and refreshing finale to our meal.

Stix is an impressive newcomer to the bar and dining scene in Perth, and no doubt a boon to the residents of the nearby apartments. It’s elegant, the food is good, and the service professional and friendly. There is a modest selection of wines by the glass, including one dessert and 2 sparkling options. With many plates designed to share, or an 8 course degustation available for $80 pp, it’s an accessible spot with easy parking – perfect for languid summer Perth evenings.

Stix Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Red Cabbage Food & Wine

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It was a long awaited visit to Red Cabbage for a birthday celebration with  five friends. We chose the 3 course menu for $59, courtesy of the Entertainment Card. This included a glass of prosecco. The decor is rather old world with lots of wood, dark carpet and dim lighting, but lightened by quirky wallpaper featuring rows of human faces.

My choice of entree was fire-roasted baby Manjimup marron with lemon curd. I don’t exaggerate when I say it was the tiniest entree I have ever had. At 2 minuscule forks of marron meat albeit fresh and beautifully presented, I wondered why they bothered. A perfect sized amuse bouche perhaps, but not nearly enough to whet the appetite.

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Friends who chose the scallops fared much better. They were beautifully moist and well presented, and  much more substantial and satisfying than the marron.

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My main course of smoked duck breast with cauliflower and garlic puree was disappointingly chewy. I devour duck at every opportunity but this wasn’t the usual tender  flesh I love.  I know that with slow cooking duck normally fares much better, so  the quality of this dish would likely have been improved with a different cooking method.

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The four of us who had the duck concurred, but two friends who opted for the fish dish (trout) were happy little Vegemites.

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For dessert we had the option to choose an individual dessert, or share a taste plate (called A Little Bit of Everything) between two. The taste plate with four different desserts was substantial and essentially 4 full size desserts. I’m often too full to have dessert, so this was an indication of how small the other course sizes were. Between 2 of us, we polished off our entire plate of desserts. The pumpkin pie was the standout, with the others being pleasant but not memorable. Presentation was somewhat lacking as you can see from the plate – nothing delicate or visually pleasing to the eye.

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I had been anticipating a visit to Red Cabbage for some time, and sadly I was disappointed by the  experience. Whilst the service was good, the food was average; certainly not the gourmet meal expected of this establishment. I also have a bugbear with restaurants charging $5 for a small bread roll when places like Must Wine Bar provide the most amazing French bread and butter free of charge.  I doubt I’ll return to Red Cabbage with so many other better dining experiences in Perth. Although some of the dishes were of a higher quality, it’s reasonable to expect uniformity in a 5 star establishment.

 

Red Cabbage Food + Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Must Winebar

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Unlike the “Pass the asparagus” scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey hurls the plate of delicate green stems against the wall, there was no such uncivilised behaviour at Must during our recent asparagus dining experience. Our band of foodies was invited to a Taste of Must evening, courtesy of Zomato, and Must Winebar head chef and partner, Russell Blaikie.

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On one special evening every month, Must hosts a four course degustation dinner with wine pairings, showcasing a different food on each occasion. Fortunately asparagus, high on my list of fave foods, was the guest of honour the evening we were invited.

Much as I enjoy the occasional gin and tonic, I’d never imagined a world where gin would be infused with asparagus. But the creative brains in the Must kitchen certainly did, and so the nifty little gin sour topped with a yellow nasturtium was our segue into the asparagus evening ahead.

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Our appetisers of satin smooth blue manna crab custard decorated with tiny green asparagus tips, were complemented by crostadas topped with prosciutto and white asparagus. Seafood custards are staples in several Asian cuisines, but Must’s version was lighter and more delicate than any I have tried before.

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Enter the entrees of asparagus and shallot tart tatins, mushroom foam and white wine gastrique. These subtly flavoured pastries, with sweet shallots and tender white and green asparagus stems, were perfectly paired with a Right Reverend V Industria chardonnay from Margaret River. The mushroom foam added visual interest and a creamy texture to the tart.

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Mains were a choice of Middle eastern spiced lamb rump, or a chicken thigh for the non-red meaters. The thigh was succulent and soft; with the flesh melting in my mouth and the skin buttery rich and crisp. Served with a mousse-like walnut tahini, ‘risotto’ and a raw salad shanklish, this combo of ingredients made my palate dance. The shanklish was an homage to feta, more subtly flavoured but ideally suited to the fresh flavour of the asparagus risotto, which had been laboriously cut into tiny pieces by the junior chef that day. Such attention to the finer details is what makes Must stand out amongst a sea of gourmet rivals.  A glass of Great Southern Rockcliffe Third Reef shiraz was the paired wine with this course.

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My fellow Zomatoes who chose the lamb were in foodie nirvana, proclaiming this their favourite course of the evening.

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No meal is complete without some sweet treat, and Must excelled itself again with its choice of dessert. Chocolate aero, salted caramel ice cream and samphire came together in a melange of flavours and textures. Samphire in a dessert?? Known as the “asparagus of the sea”, though it seemed an unusual choice it looked a treat, coated in sugar crystals atop a mound of chocolate and cream colours. The tiny samphire strands carried the asparagus theme through to its rightful conclusion. The texture of the chocolate aero changed as soon as it hit my mouth, with the sweetness tempered by the salted caramel ice cream. Our final tipple of Rockford Cane Cut Semillon from the Barossa Valley was a fitting end to a sublime meal.

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Must Winebar has long been a favourite of mine, but I rarely order anything except the angel hair pasta with blue manna crab meat. That’s simply because it’s so damn good that I’m oblivious to anything else on the menu. It was a revelation to sample a range of dishes that illustrate the creative chops of Russell Blaikie and his team.

I’ve attended cooking classes, dined a la carte, and dropped in solely for a glass of wine in the evenings, but this was my first degustation experience at Must. Small wonder that since this establishment opened in 2001 it has won a slew of awards for its food and wine, and continues to dazzle the people of Perth with memorable dining experiences.

Despite these plaudits, what I love most about Must is that it isn’t pretentious or beyond the reach of Joe and Jill Average. Whether it’s for a four course meal, for a Sunday afternoon soul session, for a champagne oyster lunch, for the superlative service, for the superb complimentary baguette and butter served with meals, or simply for a glass of wine – just come. I defy you to try the angel hair pasta with crab meat and not fall instantly in love.

http://www.must.com.au

Must Winebar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Mallard Duck Cafe

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The Mallard Duck was the setting for a family celebration of 12 people, and proved to be perfect for all ages. I’d dined here years ago before blogging was even a term anyone recognised, and was surprised to hear that it was still alive and thriving. It obviously has something going for it.

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The menu is modern Australian and we all took a while to choose our mains – it’s always a good sign when you can’t decide because the options sound so enticing. A few of our group chose entrees, with the fried camembert being a popular choice. You rarely see this 70s dinner party relic on menus these days, but this version was a hit with its berry coulis and fresh strawberries.

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My son JB wasn’t that enamoured with his garlic prawns and rice however, and this was the only dish on the table that was a mild disappointment.  He complained about the chalky quality of the prawns; however my main dish of prawns was delightful. Head scratching time – surely they used the same prawns, so I couldn’t figure how the quality could be so different. Maybe it was the cooking process?

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A few beers and glasses of wine were dotted around our table but I went for something a bit more exotic for a change with the passionfruit mojito. This was fruity and refreshing and good value for $12.

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I loved my dish of linguine with tiger prawns. The prawns were fresh, succulent and sweet and were perfect in this simple pasta dish served with cherry tomatoes, rocket, olive oil and shaved parmesan. I couldn’t finish but my son SB managed to polish it off, concurring that it was a delicious dish. It’s handy having three strapping sons who are always more than happy to finish anything I leave on my plate 🙂

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SB chose one of the daily specials, the lamb rack with mashed potato and greens, and savoured every mouthful. I’m not much of a meat eater but I did sample a taste of lamb at his insistence and it was as tender as he claimed. It was cooked perfectly to his liking and was pink and juicy.

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The lamb kebabs with risoni and rocket salad was another winner on the table, with a few family members choosing this option. The lamb again was tender and juicy, and had been marinated in rosemary and mint. The salad with its roasted pumpkin strips, cherry tomatoes and a basil dressing was a good accompaniment to this very meaty dish.

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We’d brought our own cake to celebrate the occasion so we didn’t get to sample the desserts on offer. The service was attentive and friendly, and wait times for food were short despite this being a very busy Sunday lunch. The kids loved exploring outside the cafe down by the lake, checking out the fish pond and the geese. All in all a pleasant experience enjoyed by all ages, and yet another reason to visit our remarkable Swan Valley.

http://www.mallardduck.com.au

The Mallard Duck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sandalford Estate Restaurant

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This Swan Valley stalwart was the scene of a recent birthday lunch with two friends. Despite having been to numerous Sandalford concerts over the years, I’d never before been to the restaurant. I loved the classic feel, the warm colours, the white tablecloths, the candles and the fire burning away in the hearth on this chilly Saturday in August.

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A dining reservation entitles you to free wine tasting, so we elbowed the gaggle of tourists aside and plonked ourselves at the tasting bar to sample a range of the Sandalford wines. We settled on a bottle of the Sandalford Margaret River Range Rose to have with our lunch. I do not exaggerate when I say busloads of tourists were coming and going like a production line. There was a constant stream in to the cellar door while we ate our lunch, but fortunately their presence didn’t impinge on enjoyment of our lunch.  Every dining table was booked, and there were several large tables celebrating various special occasions. Despite the hordes, it’s the sort of venue that feels special so I can see why people flock here. I loved this large sunny room overlooking the vineyards.

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Just to get the ball rolling, we ordered a charcuterie plate of duck rillettes with onion jam, chicken liver pate with Sandalera jelly, and pork terrine with cornichons ($28). Served with baguette slices, this was a small but pleasing dish to share.

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Frau K and I both settled on the entree size pan fried house made sweet potato gnocchi ($26).  I assumed that the individual gourmet elements of this dish would conspire to create something memorable. The sautéed mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, Persian feta and Manjimup black truffle failed however, to lift the gnocchi to the heights expected. Instead of toothsome caramelised nuggets of sweet potato, they were gluey and stuck to the roof of my mouth like gummy bears. A potentially amazing dish  rendered ordinary.

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The Prof resorted to her standby steak, and ordered the black Angus beef fillet, beef cheek, baba ganoush and fried onion rings ($45). That’s a whole lot of money for a few pieces of meat in my book. The Prof complained that her steak was cold, but she enjoyed the crisp onion rings. To be fair, she was suffering from a major hangover and I doubt anything would have tasted  appetising. She didn’t even try the beef cheek so I’m not giving her critique much cred.

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Frau K and I had decided early on that dessert was a given, and we both ordered the chocolate mousse with hazelnut and oat crumbs, morello cherries, bitter chocolate cookie and pashmak ($16). I was hoping that my finisher would compensate for my disappointing main course, and it did. I loved the contrasting textures, the mix of sweet mousse against the slightly sour cherries, and the crunchy biscuit base.

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The Prof opted for the trio of house-made sorbets with a vaniilla tuile ($16). Each scoop featured different fruits and Sandalford wines. This was a cool winner in her book.

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Despite my disappointing gnocchi dish, the overall experience at Sandalford was wonderful. Staff were uniformly obliging and efficient,  the ambience was delightful, the wine was excellent (I bought 4 bottles of the Margaret River Range to take home), and portions of my meal were perfect.  This would be the ideal venue to bring overseas visitors to, and you can take advantage of the excellent offer of one main meal free, courtesy of the Entertainment Card.

http://www.sandalford.com/Restaurant/restaurant.html

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Breezes on Como

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You know that feeling when you walk into a place that’s virtually empty, and you get a sneaking suspicion that lunch is going to be forgettable. Or regrettable. Or maybe both. Funny how instinct is often an unerring predictor.

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Frau K, JS, The Prof and I met up for lunch that we’d pre-paid for with Groupons. Two courses for $27.  Good old Groupons. Love ’em most of the time, but occasionally they give you a bum steer. The menu above is especially for Groupon groupies.  Not much of a choice, but hopefully we could find something we fancied. My instinct jarred again when I saw haloumi on the menu. Panko crumbed haloumi.  Haloumi is on my list of favourite foods; right up there with Porcini mushrooms and rosti. Call me mad, but why would you want to crumb haloumi?  I can think of a dozen reasons why you wouldn’t, but obviously the chef hadn’t.

We all played it as safe as possible and ordered the marinated prawn skewers.  These prawns had been dead a while and I was a bit anxious about eating them. They didn’t smell like ammonia so I figured even though they weren’t super fresh, they wouldn’t kill me. They didn’t. They were served with green salad leaves and a thousand island sauce. Not much else to say except that this dish was what I’d expect from my local chippie. Except their prawns would probably be fresher.

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The mains provided a few more choices, and The Prof and I ordered the fish and chips. They were offered either battered or panko crumbed. Must have been a sale on panko crumbs at the supermarket that week.  We asked for the fish to be grilled, and that was no problem.  The pink snapper wasn’t the worst fish I have eaten, but then that’s hardly a yardstick for restaurant food is it?  I suspect the fish had been frozen, and there was no evidence of that nice, smokey grilled flavour, but it was at least palatable. And the chips were crunchy and fresh. They got that right.

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JS opted for the Moroccan lamb shank with Israeli couscous and juicy vegetables. Looks pretty doesn’t it? JS doesn’t complain much, but her silence spoke volumes. As did her leaving a good portion of the lamb shank on her plate.  I recently cooked lamb shanks for my sons. The meat was falling off the bones after a night of slow cooking. This lamb was firm. This meat was well and truly stuck to the bone and had no intention of sliding off onto that bed of insipid couscous without a tool kit to assist. Let’s not talk about the sauce.

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Frau K’s slow roasted pork belly had a strange effect on her. She took one bite and said “I can’t eat this”. She took her plate up to the counter and spoke to the waiter. I might add that our waiter was charming and affable and is probably used to dealing with dissatisfied customers. The youngish chef emerged from Hell’s Kitchen and entered into the conversation. Frau K, not wanting to hurt his feelings, gave him some gentle tips about how the pork should be cooked. He was apologetic and was keen to take the tips on board. Hopefully the next customer will benefit from that bit of knowledge, as Frau K is a fine cook. In fact, she gave me some foolproof advice about cooking the lamb shanks.

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So, the substitute for Frau K’s pork belly was the butter chicken. She should have known better. Why oh why would you order butter kitchen in a non-Indian restaurant? I guess her options were limited at this point, and she thought this would be cooked already and she wouldn’t have to wait. She was right about it being cooked already and not having to wait. It was duly served by our lovely waiter within a few minutes. Who could quibble about the presentation?  The tiny pieces of chicken however, wallowed in a sauce that reeked of bottle. Of bottled simmered sauce.  I had to try a mouthful naturally, and all I could say was “oh wow”.  “Oh wow” being the descriptor of something so offensive to seasoned taste buds, that it was kind of unbelievable.

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The lovely waiter offered us all free coffees. The coffees were good. He has his work cut out for him, and he knows how to manage it well.  This venue is located at the front of the Broadwater Apartments complex. It’s a sunny location with glimpses of the Swan River across the freeway.  Sadly, that’s the only positive I can come up with.  There’s no love in this eatery. It exists primarily as a facility for the Broadwater patrons, and no doubt has a captive audience much of the time which is just as well, as I doubt any of the Groupon users would be hankering to return.

 

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Morries Anytime

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Morries Anytime looked so inviting as we drove past in the evening, that we booked in for dinner the following night. The place was fairly jumping when we arrived, but it was a Saturday night in Margaret River and as we know, this place is not so sleepy these days, even in the winter months.  Morries serves a range of tapas, but also offers traditional main courses for those not partial to sharing.  There is a wide range of wines from the region on offer, and we managed to sample a few during the course of the evening.

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The Prof ordered a Pedro’s Daiquiri  and despite it being served in a cool retro glass, wasn’t impressed with the flavours of the Ximenez sherry, rum and cinnamon.  She complained it tasted medicinal, and promptly ordered a glass of red to compensate.  We ordered some grilled haloumi with pickled zucchini and charred ciabatta to munch on while we deliberated over our main courses. This dish wasn’t much to sing about, but kept the pangs at bay.

The Prof is a carnivore at heart and often orders big slabs of meat. Her dish was a locally sourced Angus steak of (I think) porterhouse, served with broccolini and potato cake. It sure looks all caramelised and juicy, but apparently it was on the tough side and she rated it only a 6 out of 10. Well, you can’t win ’em all, but that’s the lucky dip that goes hand-in-hand with ordering steak.  Me; I’m a chicken and fish kind of gal so I rarely have issues with tenderness, ages, drying times and all that stuff.

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My main choice was hot off the special’s board – crispy skin chicken breast with mustard cream sauce, pan fried polenta, peas and baby carrots.  The plump breast was succulent, the sauce gloriously lush and perfect for the soft polenta. All in all, a fabulous dish with every element complementing each other.

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True to its name, Morries Anytime is open just about anytime – well, from 7.30am till late seven days a week. Whilst I enjoyed all aspects of my dining experience, The Prof wasn’t enamoured with hers though we both enjoyed the ambience, and gave the friendly service a thumbs up. I think it’s a cool venue for a few quiet drinks in the evening, especially out front on the verandah in the warmer months.

http://www.morries.com.au/home/

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Aravina Estate Restaurant & Cafe

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If the expansive lawns, lake and buildings look eerily familiar when you drive into the Aravina Estate, it’s because you’ve probably visited during its previous incarnation of Amberly Estate. Back in the day, a bottle of trusty Amberly Chenin appeared on the table of just about every dinner party around town.

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Arriving at midday, we took the advice of the friendly wait staff and sacrificed wine tasting in favour of securing a table before the hordes descended upon us. Sound advice, because within 30 minutes there was nary an empty table in sight. With white wicker furniture, sunlight streaming through the windows and views of the picturesque grounds as you dine, Aravina looks beguiling. Would the food be on par?

Dining in a winery means you simply must have suitable libation with your meal, and The Prof and I decided bubbles were in order.  We chose a glass each of the 2010 Vintage Sparkling ($12), and this set the standard for the meal that was to follow.

Aravina offers a two course lunch for $55 or three courses for $65, so we naturally went for the second option. No point faffing around and depriving ourselves of dessert. We hadn’t eaten breakfast, so we deserved to indulge a bit. Or so we rationalised.

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Our entree of ocean trout rillettes with fine crackers and herbs was bursting with fresh flavours and was simply exquisite. The subtly flavoured rillettes were presented on wafer thin house-made crackers, topped with orbs of fresh roe, and garnished with delicate herbs. You could taste the slight saltiness of the sea, and the combination of the trout with the lushness of creme fraiche or its closest relation, was nothing short of superb. A simple dish with simple flavours where the key lies in the quality of the main ingredient.

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My main course of barramundi with truffled beans and chicken jus lived up to the standard of the entree. The creamy white beans were infused with fresh Manjimup truffle and provided a glorious base for the fish. I can’t remember eating barramundi this.damn.good.before. The crispy skin and the succulent flesh, combined with the richness of the jus, created a match made in heaven. I wouldn’t have imagined the pairing of fish with beans and chicken jus would succeed so completely, but the combination of the fresh elements of this dish was outstanding.

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The Prof’s choice of the duck leg with braised lentils was another noteworthy dish. The puy lentils with white carrots, pearl onions and chicken jus, provided a base that showcased the wonderful rich flavours of the duck. The fall-apart flesh was juicy and the skin super crispy. I know The Prof did not exaggerate the merits of this dish because I naturally had to sample it.

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Dessert continued to captivate us. Not only did this concoction look incredibly elegant, but the soft chocolate with WA raspberries and salted caramel, tasted amazing. All of the elements of this dish were in harmony, from the slightly acidic fruity bite of the Albany raspberries, to the velvet silkiness of the soft chocolate to the chewiness of the wafer and the salty smoothness of the caramel. Oh my. This-is-so-good-I-must-be-dreaming food delirium ensued.

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Simply put, this was one of the best meals I’d eaten for some time. It’s a rare pleasure to enjoy all courses of a meal equally, but Aravina obviously runs a top notch kitchen with a chef who knows what good food is all about. Their secret is in procuring top quality produce, sourced locally where possible. We could not fault one area of our dining experience; the wait staff were exemplary, the setting picture-book perfect, and the food was a gastronomic orgasm. Add a vintage car museum, a gift shop and cellar door tastings to the already brilliant equation, and you have an all-round wonderful experience. And as if things couldn’t get any better, you can use your Entertainment card for a discount. As with our childhood icon Mary Poppins, Aravina Estate Restaurant & Cafe is practically perfect in every way.

http://aravinaestate.com/pages/about-us

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Jezebelle in Guildford

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Old Guildford town has undergone a transformation over recent years, and the places for foodies to explore continue to grow. Jezebelles has been created out of an old bank building and brings a touch of funkiness amid the cottages and heritage decor. Meeting up with a small group of friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to enjoy the Jezebelle offerings. With a jazz duo playing at the rear of the venue, sun streaming through the windows and comfy chairs to park yourselves in, you get to ruminating that life is pretty darn good. Add a $10 glass of sangria to the mix and all’s right with the world.

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The lunch menu comprises plates of Spanish themed tapas which enabled our party of five to sample a range of dishes. The quesadillas with Spanish cured ham, rocket and manchego cheese ($12.90) were everything quesadillas should be; generously filled, crispy outside, and oozing with warm cheese.

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Croquetas de setas ($16) were filled with mushroom and labneh and smeared with red pesto. These fried morsels nestling on a bed of pea puree were hot and crunchy and scrumptious.

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The service at Jezebelle was uniformly brilliant. Our Italian waiter was a beaming joy; happy to be there, knowledgeable about the menu, and eager to please. The tapas plates were presented at decent intervals so we had time to savour our food and enjoy the experience.

The delicious tiger prawn tacos ($20) were lightly beer battered and served with guacamole and pico de gallo. See those small soft tacos? They weren’t easy to pick up and eat, and looked more like a work of art to be admired. But troopers that we are, we somehow managed to polish them off.

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You can’t have too many fried foods; well certainly not when you’re eating a tapas meal. And as long as good quality olive oil is used, those old arteries won’t suffer too much. That’s what I tell myself and it seems to temporarily placate me. Enter the bola de paella ($16), chorizo and prawn paella balls; crispy golden rounds of rice mixed with nibbles of prawn and chorizo, accompanied by saffron aioli.

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Garden variety fish and chips is such a hit and miss affair that I am reluctant to order it unless I’m in a dedicated seafood eatery. I’m so glad we took the waiter’s advice and ordered Jezebelle’s version as it was a highlight amongst a slew of highlights. The fish of the day ($18) with patatas bravas, mesclun salad and house made tartare, featured two generous pieces of cod, beer battered and served on a board.  The serve of patatas was small but given the serious amount of carbs we’d devoured,  this wasn’t an issue. The fish was fresh and the batter crisp; better (and cheaper) than many I’ve sampled locally.

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Pork lovers are not forgotten. The pork and prawn cigars ($16) were fried in spring roll wrappers and served with sweet chilli mayo. I didn’t try these but JS and The Prof assured me they were the bees knees. I couldn’t possibly doubt that given the primo food we’d been scoffing.

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The ubiquitous salad. The thing we order because we think it will balance out the plates of fried/cheesy/decadent stuff we’ve scoffed. I do love salad actually so ordering it wasn’t a dilemma, but by the time it arrived I was almost at belt-loosening time. Still I had to find room for a few spoons of this colourful concoction, and I was glad I did. The warm salad of pumpkin, sweet potato and red onion ($12) was sensational. With a sprinkling of paprika pepitas, lashings of goats cheese and a tahini dressing, this was one gourmet surprise. I’m just sorry that we couldn’t finish it, but one has to squeeeezzzze in a dessert somewhere.

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And now for everybody’s favourite dessert these days – churros ($14). Served with a bowl of dulce de leche, this dessert allowed us to share without being greedy. Dusted in cinnamon and icing sugar, these churro fingers were marshmallow soft inside and crunchy outside. Just the way they should be.

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This was my second encounter with Jezebelles and it won’t be my last. The food was superb, the service impeccable and the ambience quirky and fun. Wednesday nights are cocktail nights where every one of their creations is a mere $10. Bargain by Perth standards. I can feel a midweek gathering a coming…

Did I mention this place is on the Entertainment gold card? Just another reason to visit if you’re not already convinced.

 

http://www.jezebelle.com.au

 

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Sitella Winery and Cafe

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Sipping wine and gazing over vineyards whilst waiting for a gourmet lunch is a tough gig, but I’m always up for a challenge. With my three pals and I taking full advantage of another brilliant Groupon offer, we sallied out to the Swan Valley on a Wednesday afternoon to check out Sitella’s winery and restaurant.

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Sitting out on the rear deck overlooking the vines, we perused the menu and marvelled at this mellow winter escape only a 30 minute drive from home.  Presented with a basket of warm bread, we buttered and ate, relaxed and happy.

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My glass of new vintage Berns and Walsh Rose was the perfect accompaniment for an entree of oysters dressed with red wine vinegar and shallots.

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Just look at these succulent ocean fresh babies.  Bliss is often found in the simplest things.

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Duck gets me excited. I sometimes have an inner conflict where my love for the feathered live versions competes with my love for the cooked versions.  My stomach invariably triumphs. I’ve had stints at being completely vegetarian but I love food too much to embrace this on a lifelong basis. I limit my meat consumption at home but when dining out I treat myself to dishes I wouldn’t cook for myself; duck being one of those things.

The crispy roasted breast with gateau of confit leg, orange marmalade and red onion choucroute was a simple but beautifully presented dish. Cooked to tender pink perfection, the duck breast was perfectly paired with the seasoned confit and the slightly acidic choucroute.

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JS and The Prof feasted on free range pork cheeks with honey-glazed belly, colcannon, black pudding and apple dressing. They loved this rich dish with its splash of jus and accompaniments. It takes a brave woman to eat black pudding, and I’m not one of them.

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Frau K ordered the entree of house made gnocchi with basil tomato sugo and roasted Mediterranean vegetables as a main course size, declaring the dish to be buonissimo.  Featuring downy soft gnocchi and bursting with flavour, the dish looked striking with its red and green colours topped with with parmesan shavings.

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Sitella’s was another superlative Swan Valley experience. The service was top notch, the surroundings tranquil, the wine first rate and the food delectable. Nominate a skipper, take a drive, enjoy a relaxing lunch and savour some first class wines.

http://www.sittella.com.au/restaurant.php

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The Brisbane Hotel

Brisbane 2

More sophisticated than your average watering hole, the Brisbane rose from the ashes several years ago to morph into a gastro pub serving good food in convivial surroundings. In summer the garden is the ideal spot to chill out with your buds for a few hours, while in winter the Brisbane’s inner sanctum offers warming mid-week specials at reasonable prices. It helps that the staff are gregarious and friendly; nothing is too much trouble for these guys, bless ’em.

Brisbane

I had fond memories of last winter when I first tried the Tuesday night special of roast chicken with a glass of house red for $25, so I wanted to repeat the experience with a few friends. I’m happy to report that the price and value have remained the same. The deal entitles you to a huge plate of roast meat and veggies, and a glass of shiraz to boot. Roast chicken is on offer every week, with an additional meat roast on offer that changes every week. Two of us opted for the hearty half chicken complete with stuffing, roast vegetables, broccoli with white sauce, and a jug of gravy. A huge meal that neither of us could finish.

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Big appetites will rejoice.

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My other two friends chose the alternative of roast pork and in between stuffing their faces, raved about how tasty their meals were. The loin came complete with crackling, apple sauce, roasted beetroot and pumpkin, and those healthy green things everyone seems to detest. Or do some folks actually like brussel sprouts?

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On previous visits to the Brisbane we’d tried the amazing pavlovas, so it was a fait accompli that we’d be eating dessert. Sharing dessert- that’s not so greedy is it? The pavlovas are massive concoctions and you’d be hard pressed to finish one yourself. Served with berries, stewed rhubard and a passionfruit coulis, ours was as good as always; fluffy and marshmallowy inside with a crunchy crust and creamy topping. We managed to share one pavlova between three, which was just enough after our enormous main course.

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Another friend was won over by the idea of chocolate fondant, but sadly this wasn’t a patch on the pav. The pudding had been overcooked and there was no river of melted chocolate, but rather a dry pudding that wasn’t saved by the caramelised orange or scoop of mascarpone it was served with. A disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable meal. We did tell her to order the pav, but some people just won’t listen.

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The Brisbane’s Tuesday night specials are perfect for folks like me who live alone and don’t normally bother cooking a full-on roast for one. If you arrive before 6.30pm you can take advantage of happy hour, and buy any glass of wine for $8. That plus the glass of shiraz included with your dinner, will guarantee you a classic meal accompanied by a warm glow.

http://www.thebrisbanehotel.com.au

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